Fisherman’s Wharf

When a cold fog rolled between them, the little boy clutched his mother’s hand.
“Don’t fret, Timmy, don’t you fret.” The tall woman puffed out the words as she struggled to pull her metal wagon up the hill. “We’ll get this laundry unloaded and we’ll get paid. Then we’ll go home and have animal crackers and cocoa and get warm.”
The boy whimpered. In a soft voice, he said, “But we can’t go there. He…he…”
The woman tossed her head and a lock of red hair came loose from its pin and straggled onto her shoulders. “Don’t worry. He won’t be there. He’s gone.”
The little boy skipped. “Where did he go?”
“Don’t worry ’bout him. Now no more talking. Takes all my breath to pull this heavy thing.”
He put out a starfish hand. “I’ll help.”
She swatted it, but gently. “The wagon’s my job. Your job is to keep walking and stay quiet.”
In silence they trudged up the damp sidewalk and turned left onto a street where three story wooden houses loomed tall on either side. The fog had lifted enough to reveal the fretwork over the doors and windows, the trim painted green, black and an occasional purple. The boy marveled at the sight of so many lighted windows.
The woman walked to the side of one house and down three steps where she rang a bell. When a tall man answered, the boy shrank behind his mother. She handed the man a package wrapped in blue paper. “A dollar twenty-five please.”
He reached in his pocket and gave her two bills, nodding to indicate she could keep the change.
As they climbed back up to the street, she said, “Don’t cower behind me. That man wouldn’t hurt you.”
The boy put his thumb in his mouth and said nothing.
They went to two more houses and delivered two more packages.
As pale rays of sun broke through the fog, the boy asked, “Did Pa go back to his boat?
“Yes, indeed, son. Once a sailor, always a sailor. That man’s not happy, lest he’s on the water. Now don’t be fussing about him. Let’s finish the last houses and go down to the harbor.”
Timmy skipped again, a smile crossing his pinched face.
They went to three more houses and handed out three more blue wrapped packages. Coins jingled in the pocket of the tall woman’s heavy coat. With the wagon almost empty, they started downhill headed for Fisherman’s Wharf.
“Can we take the cable car?” The boy’s eyes lit up with hope.
The woman shook her head. “Not today. The wagon’s too heavy to lift onto the car.” Seeing his face fall, she added, “I’m planning a treat for you when we get down there.”
“What?” he demanded, “what is it?”
“Wait and see.” The wagon started downhill, going too fast. The woman pulled with all her strength to hold it in check. When her sleeve slipped up, the boy saw ugly red welts striping her freckled arm. He drew in a noisy breath. She heard him and rolled her sleeve back down without a word.
The smell of fish wafted up from below. Squawking seagulls circled above them, their harsh cries hurting the boy’s ears. He put his hands over them and stumbled along behind his mother.
Finally they reached Fisherman’s Wharf where steaming pots of crabs stood in front of many restaurants and crowds of people ignored the chilly air to promenade along the harbor.
The boy stopped, looking at his mother and frowning. “What’s in the wagon? You don’t have any customers in this place.”
“Linen for a restaurant. Here….”She rummaged in the pocket of her coat and gave him a crumpled dollar bill. “Take this to the Ghirardelli factory and get yourself a treat.”
The boy’s jaw dropped. “I can spend a whole dollar?”
“That’s what I said, isn’t it?” She waved one hand in the air, “Spend it all. Shoot the works. Meet me back here in…” She looked around, biting her lip, “…in thirty minutes.”
The scuttled toward the brick factory, holding the dollar tight in his fist. The woman tugged at the wagon, pulling it past the restaurants toward the fishing fleet bobbing at anchor with the heads of seals occasionally popping up between boats. She walked past all the boats to an empty stretch where there was nothing but gray water between her and the island of Alcatraz out in the bay. She picked up the last blue wrapped package and gazed at the lumpy shape in the covered with a sheet and tied down.Taking at deep breath she shoved the wagon with all her might pushing it from the walkway into the deep water. The wagon sank slowly, while the woman bit her lip and clutched the laundry package to her chest.
Finally it was gone hidden by black water.
She walked back to the fishing boats and encountered a sailor with graying curls coming ashore. “Want some clean sailing clothes?” she asked. “Washed and ironed.”
He scratched his head. “How much?”
“Free for you.” He looked suspicious. “My man ran off. I got no use for them.”
He grabbed the package and walked off quick as if afraid she’d change her mind.
Soon Timmy came running back, a big chocolate bar held high in each hand. “One for you and one for me,” he sang out, “and I got change too.”
“Good boy,” she stooped to hug him.
He frowned. “Where’s your wagon?”
She curved her lips into a smile. “I sold it son. It’s too heavy for me. Gonna get me a wooden one.”
He smiled back, poking his hand into hers, “Okay. Now let’s go home.”

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Fisherman’s Wharf

  1. D Matzke

    It’s a problematic piece to read because you are trying be to clever with your sentence structure. You start it out with a prepositional phrase and move through a great variance of odd phraseology . I would suggest that one put away the thesaurus and look at the simplest way to tell a story. Hemingway did it quite successfully .

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  2. Chilling…because the real story lurks below the surface like a cruising shark..
    Thanks!

    Like

  3. Nicely done, Jean. Two typos – “the scuttled” “in the covered with”

    Like

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